Choosing a Children's Bible

Walk into any Christian bookshop, and you’ll see a dazzling array of books and resources for children. Story books. Picture books. Bible jigsaws. Crossword collections. Activity books. There’s plenty to choose from. Nestled among them will be an ever-growing collection of children’s Bibles—most of which look great, with shiny covers and appealing pictures. But when it comes to Bibles for children, “all that glisters is not gold”!

Whether you are a parent, godparent or children’s leader, you will want the children in your care to come to know the Lord for themselves—through his word. So any children’s Bible you choose for them needs to support that aim, not hinder it. Here are some principles to guide you, so that you can browse the bookshelves with confidence.


Starting Out

Imagine a family with three children, aged 3, 8 and 13. There’s a wide range of books on their bookshelf, from picture books for the three-year-old up to teen novels and magazines for the teenager. No one would expect these three children to read the same things. However, we can tend to think that one children’s Bible will serve a child right through childhood until they’re ready to graduate to the NIV!

In reality, we need to look at different Bible versions for each age group. As a general rule of thumb, infant Bibles (under 7s) are actually books of Bible stories, juniors (7-11s) need a full Bible in a child-accessible version, and teenagers will use an adult Bible in a good modern translation.


Which Bible to choose:

There is no such thing as a “perfect” translation. Even the ESV, seen by many as the most accurate of modern translations for adults, has places where scholars question its choice of words. When it comes to a Bible for children, there will always be a balance between accuracy of translation and accessibility of language. The more that a writer uses concrete ideas and words that children easily understand, the more you may find they have obscured the original meaning in the process. It’s up to you to decide how that will shape your choice of Bible version—but here are a few pointers to look for:


Infant Bibles (under 7s)

These are collections of Bible stories, so start with the contents page. How many stories are included? Are there enough to introduce your child to a good range of Old and New Testament events? Look to see which stories have been included, and which left out. Has the writer linked events together to show the “big picture” of the whole Bible, or are they written as separate, stand-alone stories?

Check how the writer covers key Bible events. Start at the front to see how they handle the garden of Eden. How do they describe sin, and God’s response to it? Look at the beginning of the New Testament, and note how the Christmas story is presented. Is there any link with the bigger picture of God’s promise to send Jesus as the new King? Then find the Easter story to see how they handle Jesus’ death on the cross.

Read a few stories through, and check how they are written. Are they a paraphrase of the Bible account, rewritten in simple language—or has the writer added extra material? And if they’ve added things, what has been added? Some writers will insert questions, or extra description, to help a young child engage with the story. Others add comments about what’s happening in the story and why. Some will put words in Jesus’ mouth, imagining what He might have said in a particular situation. Be particularly cautious about writers who add things to a story. As an adult, you will know what’s really part of the Bible story, and what is extra. But a child will not!

For example, one infant Bible tells the story of Jacob cheating Esau out of his birthright, and then fleeing to his uncle. On the way, Jacob has a dream of a ladder stretching from heaven to earth. So far, so good. But according to this particular version, Jacob has a difficult journey which includes a scary encounter with a wolf! There’s even a fantastic picture of the wolf for the child to focus on and remember. Sadly, when you check for yourself in Genesis 28, the wolf is nowhere to be found. But a child may remember it forever…

This example shows how pictures can sometimes give an unhelpful focus to a story. But good illustrations are a joy to look at and help to support the words. They may also include extra details from the full Bible account—extras that a child who already knows the story well can enjoy noticing. Bible stories introduce us to people and events from thousands of years ago. Good illustrations can help a child to see that these events happened to real people in a real place and at a real time in history.

You may also want to look at how certain people and events are illustrated. How are Adam and Eve, and the serpent, shown? Is Daniel drawn as young or old in the den of lions? (He was over 80 at the time.) Do the New Testament stories include pictures of Jesus, and if so, are you comfortable with how he is drawn? Is the crucifixion shown in a way that is appropriate for your child? Children who are not yet reading for themselves may flick through an infant Bible engrossed in the pictures. So let’s make sure those illustrations give them a biblical feast to enjoy. 


Junior Bibles (7-11s)

With older children, you’ll be looking for a full Bible. But be aware that most children’s Bibles are in fact adult translations, with a new cover and some pictures. That needn’t be a bad thing, but it’s worth bearing in mind that most children’s Bibles weren’t translated with children in mind. An exception to this is the International Children’s Bible (ICB), which was translated from the original languages specifically for children.

With a junior Bible, start by reading the introduction. This will tell you what the main aims of the translation team were and will give a feel for the kind of translation decisions they made. Then look at some key stories or verses to see how they have been phrased. You may find it helpful to have a good adult translation with you so that you can compare passages.

Look at any additions to the Bible, in the form of maps, charts, pictures etc. These can often be helpful, but your top priority must be the Bible text itself, rather than any add-ons. Some junior Bibles come in the form of study or “Adventure” Bibles. These are worth a look, but be cautious. Sometimes the extra information distracts from the main point of the text.


Youth Bibles (12+)

This article looks at children’s Bibles, but most of the principles apply to youth Bibles as well. Most are actually an adult version with a new cover and some fact boxes. You will find that the fancy cover can add a lot to the price! Be especially wary of youth Bibles with fact boxes, since your teenager may be tempted to look there for the answers instead of in God’s Word. For most teenagers, a good modern translation, such as the NIV, will give a high level of accuracy while using language that is accessible for the age group.


Over to You…

Please apply the above principles for yourself, bearing in mind the reading age of your child. Some of the things I have mentioned are hard to assess if looking at a Bible online. If you don’t have a Christian bookshop near you, then maybe ask a friend whether their child has a good Bible they would recommend. In my experience, most children are given several Bibles, so you may even be able to pop round and have a browse on their bookshelf.

One Bible I would like to recommend is God’s Big Promises Bible Storybook, written by Carl Laferton and illustrated by Jennifer Davison. This beautiful infant Bible has a good spread of 92 stories showing how the Bible is one big true story. It is the story of how God made and kept amazing promises. It also has colourful clues throughout to help your child spot God making and keeping all his promises. Highly recommended!


Alison Mitchell
Children’s Editor, The Good Book Company